Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Android App Roundup

It's been almost 18 months since I've done my last app roundup, and a whole lot has changed since then, so I thought it was time to do another one.  I'll refer you to the previous post to read up on how Android works, the difference between apps and widgets, and other info like that.  For this post, I want to focus on the best apps that I'm currently using or have used recently.  There will be some overlap compared to the previous list, but there are quite a few new entries, too.  Wherever possible, I'll link to free versions so you can try them out without any financial commitment.

  • Action Launcher - I love this launcher!  Up until the past couple weeks, it was my launcher of choice.  Most launchers have essentially the same features, but this one has some genuinely unique capabilities.  The app drawer is hidden on the left side of the screen, so a swipe in from the edge reveals it, even if you're in another app.  It scrolls very quickly, so you can get to every other app on your phone in a hurry.  There's also a "quickdrawer" that is essentially the same thing when you slide in from the right edge of the screen, but you can put whatever you want in it - apps, widgets, contacts, etc.  The other feature I really like about Action Launcher is that it has shutters and covers, which basically give you one-swipe access to widgets (from the app icon) and the dual-functionality of both tapping to start an app and swiping to open a folder from the same app.  That may sound confusing, but hit the link above and watch the sample video.  It's very slick, and makes Action Launcher stand out from the crowd.  There is a free version that lets you try it out, and a paid version which opens up all the features available.
  • Apex and Nova - Two great established launchers, both of which I have used extensively.  Both have lots of customization and offer snappy performance.  You can't go wrong with either one.  Both have free versions you can try out and paid versions to unlock all features.
  • Next Launcher 3D - This is the best 3D launcher in the Google Play store, hands down.  I've tried several, and all of the others are buggy, sluggish, and lack features.  Next, however, is top notch.  It is slightly slower than the other launchers listed here, but offers a gloriously amped up visual interface that cannot be found anywhere else.  The effects are outstanding, and the level of detail is tremendous.  If you like visual bling and whizbang awesomeness, this one is for you; it'll definitely impress the (geeky) chicks at parties.  It's made by the same people who made Go Launcher EX, which was a terrific launcher until they gunked it up with ads and sales pitches for their other products.  Hopefully they won't do the same to Next 3D.  The only catch is that it's gaudily expensive...$17!!!  I would never have purchased it myself, but Amazon has been running a bunch of specials lately where downloading a certain app grants you Amazon coins which can be used for other purchases in the App store, so I actually got it for free.  You can try the full functionality for a few days via the trial version to see if you like it, even if you don't have any Amazon coins.  For a quick look at the visual differences in a "3D" launcher, check out this demo video:

  • Dolphin - In my opinion, this is the best overall browser on Android.  It has a great combination of speed, features, add-ons to increase functionality (like one-tap integration with Dropbox or Pocket), and bookmark/tab synchronization.  I rely particularly heavily on the sync tabs feature, which allows me to open any tab on one device -- whether my laptop at home, my phone, or my Nexus tablet -- and then pull it up on any other device.  The best part?  It's free.
  • Next - This one is made by the same people as Next Launcher 3D.  It's lean, it's fast, and it's simple, though it still packs almost as many add-ons and other functionality as Dolphin.  If it had tab sync, I'd be hard pressed to pick a winner.
  • Chrome, Firefox - I haven't used either of these for months.  I used to use Chrome as my primary Android browser, but a particular update broke the sync functionality, and I couldn't ever restore it.  It's probably fine now, but Dolphin worked seamlessly at the time and has continued working seamlessly, so I stayed with it.
  • chompSMS - This is my messaging app of choice.  It's simple and has a very clean interface, yet it has just enough customization available that you can make it look how you want.  It has some nice features that the basic apps don't (scheduled sending, customized notifications), but none of the bloat that Handcent or Go SMS Pro have.
  • Pushbullet - This is a new one since the last list.  It's another way to talk between various devices, including Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac.  It's dead simple to send a link, a note, or a file from any device to any other, and it's blazing fast, too.  This is a very slick multi-platform way to communicate.
  • Hangouts - If you have Android, you've already got it.  Personally, I find this a necessary evil of using Google.  It works fine, but it's got a dull, kloodgy interface with zero customization, terrible notifications, and little more than basic messaging functionality.  Bleh.
Social Media
  • Talon - This is a pretty good Twitter client.  The interface is very slick, and you can tell the devs went out of their way to create a good visual experience with it.  There are one or two things that could be made simpler, but nothing major.  No free version, unfortunately; I picked this one up with free Amazon coins, too.
  • Carbon - In my opinion, this is one of the two best Twitter clients that are fully functional but still free.  A couple little oddities, but generally pretty simple to use and has a very visually appealing interface.  Unfortunately, if you don't yet have logins through Carbon, you're out of luck - they've hit the Twitter token wall, so no new sign-ups are allowed at this time.
  • Falcon Pro - This is probably my favorite Twitter client of all, so it is with much regret that I only had one login when it hit the token wall.  The dev pulled it from the Google Play store and offered it for free to everyone as a workaround, but in my experience it's been a little wonky in terms of refreshing properly after that.  It's a crying shame, because I think Falcon Pro was not only a visual masterpiece, but the most intuitive Twitter client I've used.
  • Facebook - I confess, I hate Facebook.  No, seriously, I can't stand it.  I tried several third party clients in a desperate attempt to replace it, but none of them were reliable enough or had all the core features in place.  *sigh*  It's a necessary evil.
  • Google+ - Another built-in Google product, this one's actually pretty good.  You may not know it, but Google+ is now the second largest social media platform, and growing fast.  It still runs generally pretty tech-savvy, with lots of developers and tech writers, but more normal people are getting on there, too.  It's pretty slick, and definitely worth a look.
  • GroupMe - This is a pretty recent addition for me, and is a great app for when you have a group of people who need to all stay in touch and in sync.  I wouldn't use it as my primary messaging app, but for its niche purpose it is excellent.
  • CamCard - This is a great little tool for scanning business cards and adding the info to your contacts.  It's a single purpose app, and it works pretty well, especially with simple cards.
  • Network Signal Info - This is a great app for checking out your mobile and wifi network signals.  You can nerd out on lots of terms I don't understand, or just look at the graph of how strong your signal is.  Either way, it can help diagnose connectivity problems.
  • Pocket - This handy little app allows you to save online articles in an offline format for easy reading later.  It also integrates with most browsers, making it that much easier to catch up on any device.
  • Evernote - Naturally.  This is one of the iconic apps of the smartphone world, and for good reason.  At its core it's a note-taking app with sync capabilities, but over time the dev team has put together one of the most, let's call it general data capture apps imaginable.  It's amazing what they've packed into this, and very likely something you'll use, so it's worth your time to check it out.
  • Light Flow - I've been using this one forever to harness control of my notifications.  This app allows you to customize the LED color, sound, and vibrations of almost every other app on your phone.  I usually know what notification I've received before I ever turn on my screen because I use Light Flow.
  • QuickPic - Still my favorite photo manager.  It's reliable, intuitive, and has a lot of functionality that I'll never use because I'm really basic when it comes to pictures and videos.
  • Remote Desktop - This is a relatively new app that allows you to control one device from another using the connectors in the Chrome browser.  It's very seamless, very simple, and it just works.  I like that it doesn't force a different screen resolution on either device; you may have to scroll more, but at least it doesn't mess up anything.
  • SwiftKey and Swype - Two of the oldest and best alternative keyboards for Android devices.  SwiftKey excels at word prediction, but Swype is a little better at correctly interpreting your swiping patterns.  Both are awesome, and I keep going back and forth between them.
  • CircleLauncher - This widget app has only gotten better and better over time.  It allows you to pack a whole lot of shortcuts -- apps, contacts, bookmarks, whatever -- into a very small space.  Lots of options to make it look just how you want and open just how you want.
  • Timely - This is my favorite alarm clock app.  The interface is beautiful, and it syncs between devices so you can have the alarm go off on one or more of them at the same time (or different times, if you prefer).  It's very simple to use, and the only thing I would change about it is that you cannot currently select your own music files as the alarm ringtones.  Otherwise, it's terrific.
  • Ruzzle -An extremely addictive time-killer!  How many words can you form in 120 seconds by dragging your finger around a 4x4 grid?  This game combines the nerdiness of knowing lots of words with the competitiveness that comes only from throwing down with total strangers.  I love it!
  • Words With Friends - The classic word puzzle game.  Still playing it daily...
  • Smash Hit - This is my new favorite game.  Just released in March, it's already had tens of millions of downloads.  It's kind of hard to describe, but you're basically floating through a series of rooms in which you're confronted with glass obstacles.  You shoot metal balls at the glass obstacles to smash them, thus enabling yourself to pass through without contact.  It's an endless scroller, which I generally don't like, but for some reason this one is really, really fun.  Simple enough for kids to play, challenging enough for adults to spend hours on (trust me, I know!).  Give it a try!  Here's a demo video to give you a taste:

  • 1Weather - As with the last update, there are still a bazillion and a half weather apps.  Try a bunch and stick with the one(s) you like best.  My favorite is still 1Weather.
  • HD widgets - This app does way more than weather, but that's my favorite use for it so I'm putting it here.  Great visuals and lots of features and functionality make this one a must have.
  • NOAA - Another excellent weather app, with intuitive forecast and hourly pages.  Most other weather services eventually trace their info back to NOAA, so I figured I might as well start out there.
Cloud Storage
All the usual suspects: I use Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive, as well as some newcomers like Copy, Pogoplug, Tresorit, Bitcasa, and Amazon Cloud Drive.

The big ones remain: Docs to Go and QuickOffice; there are some others starting to pick up speed, like KingSoft Office, OfficeSuite 7 Pro, and Polaris.

I actually haven't seen any significant movement from the last roundup, so I'll just re-post those:
  • Lookout - The best mobile anti-virus and security app on the market, it includes remote location (and locking/wiping for the premium version), backup capability, and other features.
  • Prey - Another great remote location app if your phone ever gets lost/stolen.
  • SeekDroid - Yet another one (really, if your phone gets stolen, can you ever have too many of these hiding around your phone?).
  • WheresMyDroid - (no, no you cannot!)
Root Apps
Having recently upgraded to a new phone, I'm not currently rooted.  However, I would say these are the best of the bunch there:

  • Titanium Backup - This is the biggest name in root apps and backups.  You can backup everything manually or by a schedule, automatically upload your backups to one of several cloud storage services, and perform a dizzying array of other import/export things that I haven't even begun to explore.  It's got loads of functionality that I assume a developer would find incredibly useful, too, all for just a few bucks.
  • Root Explorer - The stock file manager is only allowed access to certain parts of your phone; this one uses root access to get to everything.
  • ROM Toolbox - Another personal favorite is this toolbox.  It is truly a work of art, containing many of the same backup and development functionalities of Titanium Backup; it includes a root browser (like Root Explorer), a complete theme changer, the ability to change your phone's boot animation or individual system icons, numerous performance enhancement tools, an ad blocker...the list is gigantic.  It's an incredible amount of stuff, especially for just $5.
  • Airdroid.  This is my go-to app for transferring files to/from my laptop.  It connects your phone to your computer wirelessly, making it extremely easy to transfer just about anything in either direction using just a standard web browser on your desktop or laptop.  It's a must-have.  Note: this must not be a root-only app, since it works on my current device...not sure what changed, but it's a good thing!
That's all I'm going to put in there for this roundup.  Hopefully it gives you some new toys to play with, but with hundreds of thousands of apps to choose from -- Google Play has now surpassed the Apple App Store -- this really isn't even scratching the surface of the surface.  But, hopefully it'll get you started on some fun new stuff.


No comments:

Post a Comment